Aside from those government budget stories and the like, the sports section is where you’ll typically find the most number crunching in the newspaper each week. There are so many numbers it’s easy to get lost in them.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given in my profession is “don’t use so many numbers and statistics that the reader gets lost in them.” It’s advice I give every inquiring writer I come across that asks for advice.
The problem is numbers tell us so much about sports, aside from the final score.
In the world of high school sports, numbers of a different kind can help tell much of the story of how successful a team’s athletic programs might be in the future. And at the beginning of a school year, the numbers that draw a lot of attention are attendance figures.
We’re over the 10,000 student mark in the high school ranks (if you include the early college crowd). With two schools already in the state’s largest classification and at last two more (Corinth Holders and Cleveland) likely headed that way in the fall of 2017, the future is going to be full of big schools playing bigger schools in the county.
Why you ask?
The number of students in Johnston County’s 24 elementary schools. As of Johnston County Schools’ attendance numbers from the second day of school, there are 16,744 students in those schools. So there are about 60 percent more students in the elementary school ranks than there are the high schools. Yes, there are six grades in those elementary schools so those numbers can’t be compared equally. So to look at where we’ll be in 2027 for example (when this year’s first graders are seniors in high school), we’ll dig deeper in the numbers
JCS officials said this week that the school system continues to add about 700 students per school year. If you break that number out into 13 grades (K-12) that’s adding 54 students to each grade a year or 216 students per year to the high school ranks (grades 9-12).
Over a 12-year period (getting us to 2027 again) that’s 2,584 more students in our high schools on top of the 10,091 already there. And those figures assume that growth will remain steady at their most recent rate. Based on recent history, the chances are that number will be larger by that point.
For argument’s sake, we’ll make a couple of assumptions as we look at the size of our eight high schools for the 2026-27 school year:
• There are still only 8 high schools in the county.
• Growth is equal across all eight of the school districts. (This is obviously not going to be the case, but I’ve used about all of the statistical and analytical powers I possess to get this far, folks.)
So in the fall of 2026, five Johnston County high schools will have enrollments of 1,500 or more students — Clayton (1,904), Cleveland (1,964), Corinth Holders (2,167), South Johnston (1,514) and West Johnston (1,727). Right now, they would all be 4A schools by the 2013 numbers the NCHSAA used. Of course, those numbers will go up, but not likely to the point to keep everybody but South Johnston in that group out of the 4A ranks.
Smithfield-Selma will be at 1,449 students, while North Johnston is approaching 1,000 students (978) and Princeton is at 661, which is still small enough to keep them at the 1A level.
Now, I seriously doubt that there will still only be eight high schools in the county in the fall of 2026. It’s probably more likely that there are 10 than eight. But there’s no doubt that the future for Johnston County high school athletics will be among the bigger school ranks.
Up Highway 70 in Garner the future is with two high schools set to house Garner’s high school population by the end of the decade with both destined to play 4A sports and growth continuing to be an issue there as well. (Garner opened with more than 2,500 students this fall, cementing its spot among the state’s largest dozen or so high schools.)
So how to deal with that growth, how to pay for it and where to add to or build new schools will be one of the area’s most important issues going forward. Conversations about school bonds, like the one that moved to the serious point this week, aren’t going away.
JCS Superintendent Ed Croom admitted this week that how to deal with the growth is something that he thinks about every night. It’s a big issue that will continue to echo across the area fields of athletic competition as well.